Nike abuses spur student-led protests

by Ritika Nandkeolyar | 11/20/97 6:00am

In response to human rights violations committed by Nike-affiliated companies, students on university campuses nationwide are protesting the ties of their schools with Nike.

Schools like Duke University and the University of North Carolina, whose athletic teams receive sponsorship from Nike, have come under fire.

Sports coaches typically agree to allow their athletes to wear a sponsor's clothing during competition in return for hundreds of thousand of dollars and free athletic gear.

Duke University, for example, signed a 15-year contract with Nike in 1993. But since then, many Duke students have protested the deal.

"The free Nike gear that University athletes receive is worth far less than the human rights abuses involved in manufacturing it," Duke student Jessica Salsbury told the Duke Chronicle.

Incidents of corporal punishment, low wages and sexual abuse directed at Nike's female factory workers, who make up over 90 percent of the workforce, have tarnished Nike's image recently.

The College, on the other hand, does not have teams currently sponsored by Nike, according to the Athletic Director's office. But other major athletic apparel companies such as Adidas -- which has also been criticized by human rights activists -- do sponsor Dartmouth teams.

Usually, sponsorships are determined at the College by coaches, who work through the compliance office before the deals are signed off at the Athletic Director's office. Teams may only receive equipment and clothing from their sponsors.

Human rights violations at Nike's southeast Asian factories have stirred a great deal of controversy and received a tremendous amount of publicity, including recent articles in The New York Times and Newsweek and a news segment on the CBS news magazine, "48 Hours."

In response, more than 30 college chapters of students against sweatshops have been organized on university campuses.

"Michael Jordan's salary alone is more than the annual income of 20,000 Nike factory workers," said Salsbury.

Some students also say that team members should be given a choice on product endorsement.

Student concern over forced labor recently prompted Duke University to create a new policy for products bearing its name. All manufacturers of Duke-related products must meet standards regarding employment, wage and benefits, child labor, working hours, disciplinary practices, discrimination, health and safety, forced labor and basic human rights.

According to Duke officials, the policy should take effect by the end of the year.

Organizers of the campaign against Nike hope that Duke will implement similar policy guidelines about athletic sponsorship.

On Nov. 7, the Nike Awareness Campaign at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sponsored a rally to protest that school's $7.1 million athletic contract with Nike.

And this September at Pennsylvania State University, students founded a group -- Nike Workers Before Nike Dollars -- to help raise awareness of Nike employment policy and practices. The group's purpose is to encourage students on campus to vocally protest Nike, so that the company feels obligated to change its practices.